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Today, it is an anachronism as a cricket venue. It used to get ready only when international matches were posted there, as a later home of the Hyderabad Cricket Association, the Gymkhana ground in Secunderabad, did not have the stands needed to accommodate the large number of spectators such matches brought. For decades, however, Fateh Maidan, where stands the Lal Bahadur Stadium, has been synonymous with Hyderabad cricket, though it belongs, not to the cricket association, but to the Andhra Pradesh Sports Council.
I began to hear of this much loved cricket venue when I first read newspaper reports of the Moin-ud-Dowla Gold Cup tournament. I was at the time in college cricket in Madras, and it was quite thrilling to read of the exploits of some of my friends and rivals - in a cricketing sense - at this prestigious competition, in which the cream of Indian cricket took part.
A G Satvinder Singh was one cricketer I particularly admired. He was picked to represent the Vazir Sultan Colts, and his engineering college teammate S Venkataraghavan too made a mark in the Gold Cup. I imagined then a tree-shaded ground where the aristocracy of Hyderabad gathered to watch the sleepy proceedings of cricket of an altogether more leisurely vintage than we are now accustomed to watching. I was not very wrong, as I found out years later when I actually entered the ground, except for the concrete and steel stadium. The shamianas in front of the pavilion seated the beautiful people of Hyderabad, the most stylish, the most elegant and the most spectacularly good looking men and women of the twin cities.
This was the ground where India was accused of wasting time to save a Test match against New Zealand, led by Graham Dowling. With India merely a couple of wickets from a defeat, the game was interrupted by a brief spell of rain - it was one of those freak showers which sometimes struck the stadium alone, leaving all other parts of the city dry. With the ground staff showing remarkable tardiness in getting the ground ready, Dowling and a couple of his men entered the field, mop and bucket in hand, but were prevented by the umpires from doing any ground duty.
This was also the ground where I watched a number of Ranji Trophy matches before I myself started playing in them. One unforgettable memory is of Abid Ali and a couple of his teammates waving furiously at me, signalling for me to join the players in their enclosure while I sat in an adjoining stand, entry to which my complimentary ticket - courtesy the same players - entitled me. I had in the previous week played my first match at the ground, not counting an earlier one in which I did not get to bowl, and had so impressed Abid and Co., that they arranged for me to bowl in the state team's nets prior to the match I was now watching. This was a Ranji knockout match against Delhi, and though not in the original squad, I nearly played the match, I was told, with off spinner Noshir Mehta breaking a finger a day before the match.
Fateh Maidan offered a beautiful batting wicket, though it could be quite a sporting surface, whenever groundsman Venkatswami was allowed to leave some grass on it. At different times, the authorities experimented with different approaches to laying the wicket, including a brick base once, but as an off spinner, I always enjoyed playing there, though not once during my career did it present a turning track. At its benign best, it was a challenge to bowl on, an interesting one because you knew its nuances and knew how to adapt your bowling to suit them. When it offered some purchase, it was a pleasure to bowl on, with the ball hurrying off it; sometimes the batsman could be bowled off the middle of a defensive bat, the ball spinning back on to the stumps.
It was inside Venkatswami's little office that Abid Ali sometimes took his morning tea, either after practice, or before a match. This is where I received some sage advice from the squat, solemn looking groundsman, including the intriguing tip that it helped improve your fitness and concentration if you ran barefoot on the dewy grass of the ground on the verge of an important game. This is where I watched many a Moin-ud-Dowla match in the company of some of Indian cricket's greats like Salim Durrani, E A S Prasanna, V V Kumar and Rajinder Goel, sitting in the balcony of their rooms overlooking the ground, and listening to some delightful, if frequently apocryphal, cricket stories.
Hyderabad plays its first class matches at the new stadium at distant Uppal, but for many of us old-timers, our cricket memories are inextricably intertwined with our memories of Fateh Maidan.
Former South Zone offspinner V Ramnarayan is Editor-in-Chief of India's leading performing arts monthly Sruti magazine. A translator of Tamil writing, he has also authored books on cricket and classical music
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